The ideology of efficiency and the human-nature relationship: Exploring the implications of the pursuit of efficiency in the animal agriculture
Humans have a long history of endeavouring to dominate and control nature, viewing it predominantly as instrumentally valuable. Viewing nature and its non-human inhabitants as valuable insofar as what humans can gain out of them in combination with an economic system of capitalism, which insists on efficiency gains wherever possible, has resulted in a mechanistic view of both nature and non-human animals whose sentience is ignored and agency withheld. This paper will explore the ways in which understanding efficiency as an underpinning ideology of modern society can help explain elements of the human-nature relationship, focusing particularly on the rapid development of intensive livestock
production systems, otherwise known as factory farming. The paper will apply Michael McGee’s notion of the ‘ideograph’—“words or terms representing the major social
commitments characterising a community” (Voss 1999: iii)—in an attempt to create a clearer picture of how certain ideologically significant terms, such as ‘efficiency’, have impacted upon the relationship between humans and non-human animals. Socially important terms can have deep historical roots and thereby a rich depth-dimension of meaning not
immediately obvious to their users. According to McGee, a society’s conception of legitimate public motives and modes of persuasion is organised around or involves a vocabulary of key terms or ‘ideographs’. The theoretical framework of the ideograph provides a link between the notions of rhetoric and ideology as a means of investigating public consciousness. As such, ideographs provide us with reasons or excuses to believe or behave in a particular way. Therefore, through the application the ideograph, it will be argued that the pursuit of
efficiency as an underpinning ideology, within the context of animal farming, has led to a more mechanistic view of non-human animals whereby certain sentient beings have been selected and categorised into various commodities and use values, thus tarnishing and
obscuring the relationship between humans and non-human animals.
Emma Wannell is completing a dual-PhD through the Australian National University and the University of South Australia. Her research interests are fit within political science with a particular focus on environmental sustainability and ecological
philosophy. She has been teaching at the University of Canberra for over 5 years in a
variety of political science units with experience in both convening and lecturing.